The Miami Heat started the game sending a double-team at Anthony Davis, but it didn’t take long to discover that there wasn’t much they could do to slow down the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar big man.
In his NBA Finals debut, an animated Davis dominated, scoring 34 points, grabbing 9 rebounds and blocking 3 shots to help the Lakers crush the Heat 116-98 on Wednesday and take Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
“It’s easy for AD,” Lakers power forward Markieff Morris said when asked about Davis’ first Finals game. “Like I’ve been saying since I got on this team, honestly, if you ask me … we got LeBron [James], but I think he’s the best player in the world.
“He [does] it on both ends, he’s doing it consistently every night, he gives you what you ask for every night.”
Davis’ Finals debut performance is surpassed only by some all-time greats. Since the NBA-ABA merger (1976-77), only Allen Iverson (48 points), Kevin Durant (36 points) and Michael Jordan (36 points) have scored more points than Davis in their first Finals game.
And when it comes to the Lakers’ storied franchise history, Davis’ 34-point Game 1 performance is behind only Shaquille O’Neal’s 43 points and George Mikan’s 42 points for most points by a player in his Lakers Finals debut.
“It’s a great honor to be in that category with those guys,” said Davis, who made 10 free throws, one fewer than the entire Heat team made in Game 1. “I mean, they have done so much for the game, Hall of Famers, and for me to come out and perform that way and be mentioned with those guys … obviously that’s a great honor, but I also want to be mentioned in categories with champions, so that’s the next step.”
Davis, 27, has waited eight seasons to get here, and he didn’t waste any time making his presence felt. The Heat opened by doubling Davis. When the ball swung to James, the Heat doubled James and he passed it over to Davis, who hit a 3-pointer to start the game.
The Heat took an early 13-point lead. But Miami had no answer for Davis, especially when the 6-foot-10 forward played the center position. The Lakers subbed out starting center Dwight Howard and shifted Davis to center. From the point when they were down 25-12 with 4:21 left in the first quarter, the Lakers proceeded to outscore the Heat 75-30 into the third quarter.
“I don’t think in the beginning that we were physical enough,” said James, who had 25 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists in Game 1. “You have to get a feel for how hard Miami plays. I think they smacked us in the mouth, and we got a sense of that. And so we knew how hard we had to play if we wanted to try to make it a game. You know, from that moment when it was 23-10, we started to play to our capabilities.”
While the Heat — who watched Goran Dragic (plantar fascia), Jimmy Butler (ankle) and Bam Adebayo (shoulder) all sustain injuries — scored only 30 points during that Lakers’ blitz, Davis scored 23 of his points in that span.
“We have 48 hours to figure out what the next plan of attack will be,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about Davis. “He was extremely good tonight, and we have to be better.”
Davis helped the Lakers finish that massive run with a flurry as he scored on a putback, a fast-break dunk, a 15-foot jumper and then another dunk to give the Lakers an 87-55 lead with 6:04 left in the third. An animated Davis screamed on one of the dunks and shouted and scowled after another score as the Lakers overpowered Miami.
“I expect it out of him,” James said when asked about Davis’ stellar Finals debut. “Didn’t need to give him no advice. We’ve been preparing for this moment all season. He’s been preparing for this moment all season. I’m happy to be on the same floor with him and in the same uniform. He was, once again, a force in every facet of the game, offensively and defensively.”
James was all business during Game 1 and afterward during his postgame interview session with the media. His demeanor was dead serious, as James said he knows from experience not to underestimate a team that is down and not to celebrate too early.
“The best teacher in life is experience,” James said. “I’ve experienced moments in my career where you have all the momentum in the world and you felt like you had the game under control, and one play here or one play there could change the course of a series or change the course of a game.”
Davis doesn’t have James’ wealth of Finals experience. But Davis said he isn’t taking anything for granted and that he felt the nerves of playing at this level for the first time.
“First time I’m experiencing this,” Davis said. “Obviously want to come out and play well and you want to come out and win. I’ve always put pressure on myself. I had the same thing [during] Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, as well. When the ball gets tipped up, all that goes away and it’s just basketball, but everything leading up to it, you’re very excited.
“Your adrenaline is going early because you’re so excited just to be here and get ready to go out there and play. It went away early, but it was a great experience for me, great Game 1. Job is not done. We have three more.”